Secrets of the Black Arts
5/5/2009 - Review by: Etiam
To approach 'Secrets of the Black Arts' in fairness, one needs to consider the context in which it first appeared--a three year stretch from '95 to '98 when nearly all the major artists of Swedish black metal released their most legendary works. Compared to Marduk or Dissection, Dark Funeral were fairly late comers to the scene; by the time their debut LP, 'Secret of the Black Arts', arrived in '96, Dissection had released two seminal albums and Marduk had three full lengths behind them. None, however, had conceived of a style quite like that of Lord Ahriman and company. On this album, they built upon the foundations laid on their '94 debut EP and established a tradition to which they still adhere, fifteen years later.
This Regain Records reissue, like the others from the band's discography, features a bonus disk with rare/previously unreleased material as well as a modern remastering of the LP, which was recorded at Peter Tägtgren's The Abyss. In this case, the bonus material is the original 1995 recording of the album at Uni-Sound studio, whose Dan Swanö also worked with Marduk in their early days. The original Uni-Sound recording is nearly identical to the Abyss version in performance; the only significant difference is the bulky, mechanical atmosphere of the Abyss version that has become one of the band's most recognizable traits. Oddly, this re-release also features an extensive booklet that shows drummer Equimanthorn twice and Lord Ahriman not at all.
Although Ahriman is the only member remaining from this '96 lineup, the change in style since those days is minimal. Blackmoon's guitar and Themgoroth's basslines, when audible at all, follow Ahriman's riffing religiously, while the percussion glides along on 32nd-note double bass and constant snare abuse. This has always been the case on Dark Funeral albums, whether the drummer was Draugen, Equimanthorn, Gaahnfaust, Matte Modin, Dominator, et cetera. Regardless of the natural talents each musician brought to the band, Dark Funeral has always been defined by clicky blastbeats and downbeat crash cymbals every few measures. Themgoroth's vocals have more reverb and a slightly milder timbre than Emperor Magus Caligula's, but their general approach--sweeping high rasps balanced occasionally by sweeping low rasps-- is similar and remains the band's favored method to this day. Dark Funeral's arrangements would bulk up over the years with additional vocal layers and more tremolo layers here or there, but the fundamentals remain the same, and though this album's songwriting isn't stellar across the board, 'My Dark Desires', the title track, and 'Dark Are the Path to Eternity (A Summoning Nocturnal)' remain some fan favorites.
And this, of course, is what makes 'Secrets of the Black Arts' notable, more so than the material itself. From their first recording, Dark Funeral's sound was instantly and fully realized. While other black metal bands struggled to define themselves and find an original voice (including nearly all of the aforementioned names as well as Burzum, Darkthrone, and many in the Norwegian scene), Dark Funeral 'opened the gates', so to speak, and blasted through them without hesitation. It's undeniable that they haven't grown much over the years and now aren't much different from many other black metal bands, but Dark Funeral perfected their game years before most modern artists slung on their bandoliers and spiked bracers. In this game, longevity counts for something.
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